It’s very common to think of fruits as ‘sweet’ things and vegetables as ‘savoury’. But botanically speaking, it’s not always that straight forward. So, how can you tell if a vegetable is actually a fruit?
A fruit is actually something that produces seeds inside. The seed develops from the ovary of a flowering plant, Vegetables on the other hand come from the leaves, roots and stems – but not the fruit that emerges from the flower.
This in fact means that quite a number of foods that we think of as vegetables are actually fruits!
How many fruits do you know that think they are vegetables?
OK – just for fun – no peeking – close your eyes and think of all the ‘vegetables’ you know that are actually fruits?
Then scroll down and see how many you guessed correctly…
Fruits that think they are vegetables
Let’s start with this easiest first. Tomato is that one ‘fruit’ which most people get! It is most certainly a fruit – a very popular one at that. This delightful food originally started out as a bitter fruit aeons ago, growing wild in the coastal desserts of South America. Over the years, more sweeter varieties evolved and were favoured, becoming the tomatoes we know today. These days they grow all over the world in a variety of colours and sizes.
Cucumbers are actually part of the cucurbit family (see Pumpkin & Squash below), but, given their popularity I thought they deserved a mention of their own. These salad ‘fruits’ come in different varieties. Some are tough and bitter, others are soft skinned and gently sweet, whilst some are better suited to pickling.
3. Sweet Peppers, Chilli or Capsicum
Sweet bell pepper, chilli, capsicum are all part of the same family. Capsicums are essentially berries with a hollow interior, containing its seeds. Did you know that Columbus gave capsicum the name ‘pepper’ when he compared their spicy nature to black pepper? The original Aztec name was chilli. Peppers vary from mind-blowingly hot, to the sweet variety that we enjoy with salad.
4. Pumpkin & Squash
Part of the cucurbit family (which includes pumpkin, winter squash, summer squash, courgette/zucchini, cucumber, gherkin and melon), with a myriad of different varieties and properties. These ‘fruits’ grow from the flowers of a vine-like plant, that either trails along the ground or is trained up a trellis.
The olive is indigenous to the Eastern Mediterranean area and yes, you got it – is a fruit! Did you know that olives are exceedingly bitter right off the tree. In order to make them palatable, they need to be cured with water or a brine (made of salt & water or/ salt, vinegar & water) or just in salt. Curing helps to removes the oleuropein compound, which then in turn makes them tasty.
6. Aubergine or Eggplant
Either called aubergine or eggplant in the English language (depending on which part of the world you are in). Yes, the aubergine is also a fruit. Most commonly known for it’s dark, purple ‘aubergine’ colour, it comes in many different varieties, shapes and shades. Aubergine is the prime ingredient in the Middle Easter dip, baba-ganoush. Also makes a good substitute for meat, owing to it’s meaty-like texture.
7. Sweet corn
I was surprised to learn recently, that sweet corn is a fruit. It turns out that each tiny ‘grain’ on the ear of corn is indeed a fruit. Corn is typically yellow, although it also comes in white, blue, red and green varieties too.
This well loved creamy delight is a fruit. The avocado originated in Central America and is actually a member of the laurel family. Did you know? Its original name ‘ahuacatl’ comes from an Aztec language (which sounds very similar to the Spanish word for avocado ‘aguacate’)… Ahuacatl means testicle – named after the shape of this fatty fruit.
9. Green beans
We’d be easily forgiven for not realising that green beans are fruits. They are born from the flower of a bean plant. Many of us eat the young pods with immature beans inside steamed, sautéed or even raw. However, if the beans are left to mature, then we are able to crack open the pods to find high-protein, hard beans (such as black beans or pinto beans). These beans can be stored over long periods of time. Mangetout (that produce flat pea pods), pea pods and runner beans are also in this category.
Maybe you know some more? Be sure to let me know in the comments below if you do.